Going Home

In September 1964 I arrived at Harford Secondary School for Girls in Moyamba, Sierra Leone where I was assigned as a Peace Corps Volunteer to teach music and French. I was 22 years old and had just graduated from college. This was my first time out of the country and my first “real” job.

The two years at Harford were filled with learning, adventures, and wonderful new friends among the staff, students and townspeople.

When my assignment was finished and I left in July 1966 I was in tears, fearing I would never see that beautiful place and those beautiful people again.

I returned home to Wisconsin and the next thirty-eight years were busy with school, marriage to a fellow Harford teacher, raising three children, and teaching, but thoughts of Harford never left my mind as I kept in touch with teachers and former Harford students. I dreamed of going back sometime and despaired over the news about the war.  I even heard that the rebels were at Harford.

In 2004 the horrible ten year war was over and Friends of Sierra Leone was planning an annual meeting in Sierra Leone. I had just retired from teaching and it was time to go. Returning to Freetown I was shocked to see the destruction from the war but thrilled by the warm welcome of old friends.  Mohammed had been a little five year old neighbor boy in 1966.  He was now six feet tall and greeted me with cucumbers and  bananas and an invitation to visit his family.  No, we had never forgotten each other.

The highlight of the visit was the day we went to Moyamba to visit Harford and Lulu, our former student who was now Principal. The road to Moyamba was littered with the remnants of the war…checkpoints, U.N.vehicles and personnel, burned out vehicles, villages in shambles. What would I find at Harford?

Thomas Wolfe said “you can’t go home again” and I was going home. The Harford gate was the same, the paths to the classroom block, the bouganvilla, the barri, the “big house”, the dorms and our house were still there. The girls in their same blue uniforms chattered and laughed in the dorms. They still swept the paths between the dorms and classrooms. But the once fine library had been destroyed. Lulu told us about the arrival of the rebels who destroyed books and mattresses and typewriters and mounted their AK 47s on the veranda of the big house.

As I walked around town many familiar buildings were gone. The main road was now mud and potholes and rocks. I walked to our friend Chief Gulama’s house and asked for her and was told that she had gone. I asked about our shopkeeper friends the Holloways and Assads and was told they had gone. The green house where Peace Corps Volunteers had lived was now occupied by the SLPP political party. But the market was still the same with smiling busy women selling tomato paste and rice and Fanta. Women still beat the clothes while their children played in the river. Children began following me, laughing with this pomoi woman who still knew a few words of Mende. As I returned to the Harford compound it began to rain and a small boy appeared out of nowhere with an umbrella for me.

That evening I sat on one of the old stone benches in front of the intermediate and remembered sitting there visiting with Ma Mary, Mama Challi and Mrs. Hatib. They were all gone but I remembered our lively conversations and them showing me the Southern Cross in the sky. It was the first time I had ever seen it.

Listening to the beautiful voices of the girls in the chapel preparing for the annual singing contest, looking up at the bright stars and sitting on the old stone bench I knew that I was home. Now I know that you can go home again.

March 4, 2009

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.